You can't judge a book by its cover, and you certainly can't judge a wine by its label. With a book, however, you can slide it out of its space on the shelf of the shop, open it and read a few paragraphs--or even a few pages--to get a slight indication of its worth. A similar effort in a wine shop is not a good idea.
Packaging in both fields has made great strides over the last few generations, and a look across a wine shelf shows delightful imagination, sparkling imagery, superb use of color and fine coordination of typography and graphic art. I remember when Baron Philippe Rothschild inaugurated a series of labels designed by artists like Marc Chagall and Palo Picasso, plus noted amateurs like film director John Huston. Some thought he was being a heretic, that wine bottles had a classic, almost-unreadable style, and should remain that way. Of course, beautiful labels have no influence on the climate, the terroir or the skill of the winemaker, and as someone once said, you can't judge a book by its cover, or even a few pages.
But there's an international competition for label design, and the winners were announced recently. The categories are Successful Innovation, Dramatic Graphics and Classic Style. Ana-Lucia Rosales of New York took gold in the first two for Le Poisson Gris, and Michelle Poole of Seattle was a winner for the 9 Hats label in the classic division. Enjoy!
* * * *
RECENT TASTINGS: In no particular order, these wines have pleased a lot, for all the reasons that one likes wine--and then some.
Bogle 2008 California Petite Sirah ($11): A great value, as so many Bogle wines are, with bright berry flavors and a solid finish, with touches of blackberry early, hints of vanilla toward the end.
Ochoa 2009 Spanish rose Garnacha (Grenache) ($9): Slightly darker in color than French roses, with pleasing raspberry notes and good body. Maybe not the wine for a winter dinner, but don't forget lunch goes well with wine, too.
Ochoa 2006 Spanish Navarra Tempranillo ($15): Very youthful, with fruit flavors bright and cheerful throughout. Delicious.
Girard 2008 Napa Valley Petite Sirah ($28): Big and bold with 14.5% alcohol, blackberry notes throughout, superior balance, long finish.
Girard 2008 Napa County Zinfandel ($24): A rugged Zin from Mt. Vaca, the highest point in Napa County, with plummy richness and excellent balance; another 6-12 months in the bottle will make it even richer.
Napa Cellars 2007 Carneros Syrah ($28): A surprising, very faint aroma of violets on a superior example of the wonderful, well-balanced grapes that grow in the Carneros region that drifts into the southern portions of both Napa and Sonoma counties. A big, muscular Syrah, like some of the good ones from Australia, but with finesse in hints of blueberry on the palate. Splendid wine for pasta with a garlicky peppery sauce.
Zaca Mesa 2007 Santa Ynez Syrah ($24) and Mesa Reserve Syrah ($42): Zaca Mesa was the first winery to plant Syrah in Santa Barbara County, about midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles and home to some splendid wines. The reserve spends 26 months in new French oak before bottling, and time is excellence. Red fruits in the flavor and hints of leather in the finish. Very tasty, will improve for a few more years, at which time it will be wonderful. The wine from the Sana Ynez Viticultural District is very good, just lacking some of the finesse and depth of flavor found in the reserve.
Willa Kenzie Estate 2009 Willamette Valley (Washington) Pinot Gris ($20): Crisp and fruity, with a light mineral backtaste, this is fine company to oysters on the half shell, crab claws and other seafood appetizers.
J. Lohr Estates Monterey County Riverstone Chardonnay ($14): Straw yellow and with bright, brisk overtones, citrus notes and some of the buttery notes that come with California Chardonnays, this wine displays excellent balance between alcohol and acid. Good company for a freshly grilled trout, a better match if the trout was hooked in the last 15 minutes.